Brits bought 12 million fewer kilos of detergent from the supermarkets in 2014, a fall of 3.6%. While some austerity-hardened shoppers might be cutting down on washes, there are other reasons for the sector’s decline.

The rise in capsules and brands such as Persil Small & Mighty, which require less volume per wash, has affected volumes, while a reduction in deals over the past year means value is falling at a slower rate. Competition with the discounters and value retailers such as Wilko won’t have helped either.

There’s another laundry sector that’s come out smelling of roses, however. Fabric conditioners have enjoyed value growth of 4.3% on volumes up 1.4%, with brands driving all of that growth. For example, category leader Comfort is up 10.5% following a relaunch and the unveiling of the Creations range in April.

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“Fabric conditioner has much more potential for penetration and expandability than fabric cleaner,” says brand owner Unilever’s household category boss, Ben Taylor. “Innovation within premium conditioners has added more choice and ‘new news’.”

That Creations is formulated to give clothes longer lasting fragrance post wash (scents include Honeysuckle & Sandalwood and Rose & Musk) is significant because of the sector’s ongoing obsession with fragrance, reflected by P&G’s August launch of Lenor Unstoppables, scent beads designed to be thrown directly into the washing drum.

The launch has helped Lenor to a 1.4% value rise. P&G claims it’s taken 6% value share of the total fragrance-enhanced market and sold more than two million bottles. “The reason laundry is broadly flat and there is real growth in the conditioner market is because people are addicted to great scents,” says Ian Morley, head of household at P&G.

Laundry detergent tells another story, however. “For laundry some promotions have been slightly reduced in the past year as retailers start to think about everyday pricing,” says Taylor, adding Persil has defied the downturn with the help of the 2013 launch of Small & Mighty stain eraser and its biggest ever ad campaign. “The focus is moving towards a wider value perspective as opposed to short, sharp deals.”

Also bucking the downward trend is Reckitt Benckiser’s Vanish stain removal range, up 14.8% in value, boosted by the launch of Vanish Oxi Action Gold and backed by a TV and online campaign. RB has also cleaned up with Dettol Laundry Cleanser, which has racked up £4.9m in its first full year on shelves. “Sales have continued to increase, with new consumers purchasing and a high degree of repeat purchase,” says marketing director Jerome Lemaire.


Top launch: Persil Dual Action Capsules Unilever

The claims came thick and fast when Unilever unveiled its latest Persil capsules in May. A category first, apparently: Persil Dual Action Capsules contain unique stain removing microgranules and offer five times the active ingredients of standard Persil capsules.

That’s not all. amylase and mannanase enzymes make light work of starchy stains, while the microcapsules go to work on everything from tea and coffee to blackcurrant. The launch has helped the range add £2.4m to its top line.